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Why the World Needs OpenStreetMap (emacsen.net)
232 points by eevilspock 1415 days ago | hide | past | web | 38 comments | favorite

I love OpenStreetMap, see it as sort of like Wikipedia for cartographic data, and regularly use it as both a repository and source for data I collect about mountain bike and hiking trails. I then use this to make print maps; part of my work with a local mountain biking advocacy non-profit. In fact, just yesterday while watching a storm blow outside my window I put this one together:


I don't really contribute the data I collect to Google Maps because it's much more one-way... Sure, I get to use their mapping site, but I can't get the data back for making print maps.

If anyone is interested in the general process I follow for it, that can be found here:


As someone who benefits from people who do this, even though I'm in Australia: thanks!

(The local MTB volunteer group keeps the trails in impeccable condition, us trail runners enjoy.)

You're welcome. :) I've found that trail runners make great trail advocates as well. Both of our groups tend to enjoy the same sort of conditions and usually get along great.

What do you use for Geocoding? (for use in a web app that isn't open, so can't use Google etc.)

MapBox does a great job of the maps but the very next thing I want is to search for an address. Back to square one.

OSM uses MapQuest but I'm unsure how licensing and quality affects real-world apps. Is the open data good enough? Is there a sub-$2500 commercial offering that doesn't suck?

E.g. MapQuest's FAQ: http://developer.mapquest.com/web/tools/getting-started/plat...

How can I use geocodes?

Geocoding usage in the Community Edition on Licensed Data is limited to only the locations entered by an end user or that you have uploaded through our Data Manager tool. Geocodes under the Community Edition on Licensed Data cannot be stored for use outside the MapQuest service. If you would like more flexible options for geocode use, please contact MapQuest Platform Services to learn more about our extended rights geocoding product. Geocoding on Open Data has different terms, please check the Terms of Use for details.

Wikipedia has many:


What do you use?

Slight confusion here:

OSM uses its own service, Nominatim, as tommorris has posted. It's OSM's own code using OSM data. The data and code are both free, but the osm.org servers have limited capacity; you can download the code and data and run it yourself if you like.

Mapquest Open runs an instance of this. MQ's servers are beefier so they have more liberal usage than osm.org's instance.

'Mainstream' Mapquest uses commercial data and therefore has pretty strict ToUs. Those are the ones you've quoted above: they don't apply to Mapquest Open.

> you can download the code and data and run it yourself if you like.

Check out Gisgraphy:


You install it and basically get a local Nominatim.

I'm heading towards using the MapQuest Open myself, which seems to be a good default.

I think a heatmap of OSM quality would help a lot. Does such a thing exist?

There's not really a good metric of "OSM quality" yet.

The only things I can suggest are:

- issues: number reported, number closed, diversity of reporters and closers - on the basis that if lots ofpeople are reporting issues, that means "many eyes make all bugs shallow" might be working. If lots of people are closing them, then someone is actually paying some attention.

- tag diversity. Human mappers tend to actually use a fairly wide variety of tags for points of interest.

- some measure of how much the data that has been imported from, say, government public domain GIS datasets, has been modified.

- last update

- presence of house/building names and numbers

There's a bunch of similar stuff up at http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Quality_assurance

In the U.S., there are various efforts to compare the OSM data to TIGER data from after Census started their big quality improvement project. They go a long ways towards showing where people are actually working on OSM (which has a rough correlation with quality).

OpenStreetMap provides a geocoding service: Nominatim.


It's a long way from perfect but will get better the more data people plonk into OSM. There's a big focus in a lot of local OSM communities on getting street numbering data.

Nominatim data is the same license as OSM, and if you really need to, you can run your own Nominatim instance.

They do, but it seems a poor cousin (rate limiting, no service guarantees, only open data) of the MapQuest Nominatim service that it's named for (or is that the other way around?), which leads back to the same issues of quality vs price.

I'd love to use OSM for all the usual reasons, just asking what it's like in real life. What do the zillions of startups out there use, what are the tradeoffs you've experienced? If it were that easy an answer there would only be OSM and the commercial providers would only have value-added data.

Google still has by far and away the best (read: most forgiving) geocoder. It'll understand "W4" as "West 4th Street" in New York and as Chiswick in London. Stuff like that is incredibly hard to get right as every country/city/street has so many permutations.

I've love to see an open-source alternative that rivals it, but haven't found one yet.

Its geocoder still doesn't handle leading zeroes to the best of my knowledge, which makes Southwest Portland a bit tough.

A description for the uninitiated: Portland has five quadrants in street names, NW/NE/N/SW/SE. SW has "negative block numbers" east of a certain line, which are represented by a significant leading zero in the building number.

To be fair, I don't think anyone handles this. Thankfully I'm not in SW pretty much ever.

The old discussion is still on Google's cache (for now):


The comments lost during the outage are still on hnsearch: https://www.hnsearch.com/search#request/all&q=openstreetmap&...

Can anyone recommend an iPhone app for viewing maps and getting directions? The OSM wiki lists a lot of apps [1], but they seem to be of varying quality. I'd love to be able to use something that's close in functionality and simplicity of the Google Maps app.

[1] http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Apple_iOS

There is Map With Me [1] that was recommended previously. I bought the Pro version and it's very fast (maps are downloaded and cached in the device), but no directions.

[1] Lite version to try: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id431183278

I only know of android apps, but all of the backend services are available and should be pretty easy to splice together for someone looking for an interesting open source project to hack on. I am swamped at the moment, but would be happy to guide someone motivated through the process (I work quite a bit with traffic and routing algorithms optimized for the web).

Skobbler uses OpenStreetMap data for some time in their offline map and navigation apps [1]. They charge a small amount per region download for offline use. I haven't used it for some time but recommended it to a friend who likes it.

A bug tracker for OSM data also exists [2].

[1]: http://www.skobbler.us/info-contact/company-team [2]: http://www.skobbler.us/mapdust

There were a lot of things discussed here in the original post of this that were lost in the HN outage. Things that stood out to me from memory/ links and stuff/ some of my own thoughts:

- OSM does not always show some data. This does not really matter because the vector data is all available, and the openstreetmaps.org basemap is just one rendering of many. A good example of this is mapbox, which is one of the most beautiful basemaps out there.

- If you see something wrong, you can just hit the edit button and use the web editor (Id), which is super easy and contains more metadata than any other map app in this category. For example, I used this yesterday to find the type of pavement on a bike route near my house.

- Google spends 1 billion + per year on maps. This is likely primarily a) streets and b) data/company aquisitions which may not meet quite the same standards as OSM. The fact that OSM editors are obsessed with detail in their local area probably explains a lot.

- A map of the world should be something we all own. No company should have a monopoly on how we perceive the world around us, but companies should still be able to commercialize this stuff (like mapbox and others are doing).

- One point of contention that came up in the discussion was whether or not OSS can really compete with commercial solutions when there is so much money involved. Counter points to this are that mapping the whole world is something that requires a large networking effect and is not efficient for a company to do.

- GIS is one industry that has been seriously plagued by corporate wrangling. From the servers to the analysis apps to the geoprocessing engines to the underlying data; much of the innovation is hindered by companies locking down what they have (often with governmental tacit support, which exacerbates the problem quite a bit).

- There are many efforts to combat the monopoly-holder's/government's iron grip on this information and processing ability. Among these efforts that are hot on my radar include:

- QGIS: an open source gis desktop application that just saw amazing improvements with a 2.0.


- TileMill: an application that allows you to create custom basemaps. This was previously a process that required a expensive software and collection of phds.


- OSM: open map data that allows for almost infinite possibilities, since it lets you easily correct an error or download data and render it however you want.


- mapschool: A cool intro to GIS which has the potential to displace a lot of the overcomplicated training programs that have an inherent bias towards particular proprietary tools.


- Leaflet: a js library for client side map rendering. It is without a doubt easier to use than any of the alternatives, and tends to handle mobile better to boot.


- d3: A slick data visualization js lib sort of like jquery for data that can create mind blowing charts and maps.


- turf: a node.js library I have been working on (yeah, shameless plug) that aims to create a server side or client side full featured geospatial processing/stats engine with an easy to use api. The inspiration was largely taken from GRASS and my main goal was beating the hell out of arcpy on performance (it is orders of magnitude faster on the metrics I cared about when writing it).


I posted a link to a "Year of Edits" video as well to visually demonstrate the progress that is being made - http://vimeo.com/48984270

Looks like macwright broke today. It's now showing an infinite redirect loop. It was definitely working when you posted the link; maybe HN hugged it a bit too hard.

I recently started using 'Gomap!!!' to edit locations near my home: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftw...

I was surprised at how easy and intuitive it is.

Have you tried Pushpin? I've tried Go Map but I found it powerful but a bit slow. Pushpin is intended for editing details of POIs like shops and businesses while Go Map lets you do more comprehensive mapping.

Since installing Pushpin, the amount of stuff I've been adding has gone through the roof. http://pushpinosm.org/

Thanks for the recommendation. I've been looking for this exact thing. Go Map is ok, but PushPin really does have the "I'm here now and want to add the location easily" use case nailed.

Side note: This illustrates how crappy the App Store is for discovery. I've searched for all variations on "OSM editor" and never found this one.

I've been using it for a while and it handles most of the things I've tried to enter. The only thing I've not been able to add using Pushpin is the many bookmakers/betting shops I find in London. I'm going to email the developer later and ask him to add it.

Thank you. I'm just about to install it. Maybe I'll do some drive-by editing on the bus tomorrow :)

OpenStreetMap is unique. It is the only global and free source of cartographic data. My circular hiking route generator (walks.io) would not exist without it.

Although I believe it has the same problem Ubuntu has - it is geek driven and utterly unsexy for others. It has been acknowledged by OSM-ers themselves and a substantial amount of work is being done currently in direction of democratisation of OSM (although I don't know how successful it is going to be)

Mapbox is putting a lot of effort into it currently and I hope the situation will change within the next year.

I personally think the best thing you can do in popularisation of OSM is creating projects based on it.

walks.io looks really interesting. I've just moved to London and was looking for ways to get out and explore the urban jungle. That's really nifty.

enjoy :)

I posted walks.io to the openstreetmap section on Reddit.


OpenStreetMap is pretty amazing. Leafletjs is a great way to display that data on the web. Tiles from cloudmade or mapquest compliment it nicely.

Really nice replacement for gmaps should you ever need it.

(reviving from the old thread), I'd like to point out Doctor_Fegg's http://switch2osm.org/ , which helps switching from using Google Maps (and others) to Open Street Maps, and includes info on APIs, how to set up a local tile server, and lots of other great things.

@Doctor_Fegg: Thanks!

Thank you! Only website I've ever built that's been slashdotted. ;)

It's pretty useful for Google Glass hacking. Google has decided not to include the Google Maps Android API for now, maybe to force you to use their crippled Mirror API options that are more battery friendly, but OpenStreetMap works good. And there are uses cases that only it and the Android API can handle.

Like many similar issues it's a collective action problem. If everyone used OpenStreetMap then it would be much better than the alternatives and so become the defacto choice, as linux is now in many areas.

But since you can't get everyone to shift at once, you'll see a similar pattern where it eats away at small niches until it gains critical mass (assuming it does, which I think is very likely, but not inevitable).

I'm wondering how feasible it would be to extract useful information from cell phone GPS data. Given a bird's eye view heat map of the ground, would it be possible to approximate road curvature?

This, of course, wouldn't correlate street names with paths taken by people; that would have to be done elsewhere.

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